Umberto Nobile Letters and Photographs to be Auctioned

Letters and photographs of Italian airship pioneer and polar explorer Umberto Nobile will be sold at auction on March 31, 2011 at Swann Galleries in New York.

The catalog describes the lot as follows:

Archive of Umberto Nobile correspondence. More than 180 letters from Nobile to Hermine Speier, most being Autograph Letters Signed, but a few Letters Signed, short notes, or telegrams, most still folded in original envelopes, 1937-41 * More than 60 photographs, most of Nobile or of airships * Photo album titled “General Nobile gewidmet von Ulrich Mundt” * Drafts of unsigned personal letters to Nobile, presumably by Speier, more than 80 leaves, 1938-40 and undated * 2 other letters addressed to Speier by other friends, 1939 and 1947.  Vp, 1926-47, bulk 1938-40

Umberto Nobile (1885-1978) was an Italian-born aeronautical engineer and airship pilot.  He was best known for his Arctic expeditions, most notably the first trip across the polar icecap from Europe to America in 1926, and the 1928 Italia expedition which resulted in the death of seven crew members and a massive rescue effort.  Conflicts with Mussolini led him to work abroad.  Between 1931 and 1945, he resided in Italy, the Soviet Union, the United States, and Spain, which must be some sort of record.

Nobile’s wife Carlotta died in 1934, and after the war he remarried to Gertrude Stolp, who he had met in Spain in 1943.  In between, he carried out this extensive correspondence with Hermine Speier (1898-1989), a German-born archaeologist at the Vatican.  His letters to her begin in June 1937 from Italy (54 letters), and begin arriving from the United States in June 1939, where Nobile began a year as a professor of aeronautics at Lewis University in Lockport, IL.  Most of the 130 American letters are postmarked from nearby Joilet, with about 20 late 1940 letters sent from Rochester, NY.  The last letter is dated 2 April 1941.

The auction catalog is available online and bids can be placed through the Swann Galleries website or

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Giovanni Abrate
Giovanni Abrate

I am a former airship test pilot and I had the honor of meeting and conversing with General Nobile. He was a real genius and left an indelible mark in airship design and history. I hpe the letters will be made public by the new owners.